Sinclair Lewis's Main Street
by Greta Bahnemann, Metadata Librarian, Minnesota Digital Library, Minitex
Think Like a Historian
Observe a Primary Source Item and Record Your Thoughts
- What is happening in the photograph or letter, diary, etc.? What just happened, or what is about to happen?
- Describe the people you see in the image. How do they relate to each other and to the photographer? If there are no people in the image, what is the subject of the photograph?
- Look for details that show when the photo was taken – time of day, season, and year. Do the people in the photograph look different than people today? How are their clothing, shoes, and hair styles different? Also look for differences in things like transportation, housing, equipment, and general infrastructure.
Think about the Creator, Audience, Context, Relationships
- What is the author/creator's point of view? What was the author's purpose?
- Who is the intended audience for this primary source material?
- Explain how the source tells its story.
- What was happening locally, regionally, or nationally when this primary source material was created?
- How does this item relate to other content in this Primary Source Set and/or the rest of the Minnesota Digital Library collection? Compare and contrast two resources.
Finally, using the clues you have observed, try to figure out why the source was created. By asking these questions, you have begun to understand the what, who, where, when and why of the primary source material – and ultimately, the story it tells.
Discussion Questions & Activities
- The era depicted in Main Street was one of great change and upheaval in American society. The years before and during World War I were marked by the rise in social movements including the labor movement, the fight for women's suffrage, and the breaking down of the 19th century class system. Do you think these events would be harder or easier for a small town to deal with?
- Do you think it is easier to live in a small town, medium-size city, a large city or suburb? Why? List some of the advantages and disadvantages of where you live.
- Look at the photographs of Sauk Centre, Minnesota (Sinclair Lewis's hometown). Did you achieve any new insights about the novel after looking at the images of the people and buildings?
- Ask students to think about a time when they wanted to change something but were met with resistance and road blocks. Ask students to write a journal entry about this experience. How did it feel when they realized they couldn't win others over to their point of view?
- Ask students to think about something they would like to change in their school such as a later start time or an addition to the curriculum, etc. Have them brainstorm ways in which they could initiate change. Write an action plan with appropriate steps.
eLibrary Minnesota Resources (for Minnesota residents)
- "(Harry) Sinclair Lewis." DISCovering Authors, Gale, 2003. Student Resources In Context, https://link-galegroup-com.content.elibrarymn.org/apps/doc/EJ2101100644/.... Accessed 12 July 2019.
- Lewis, Sinclair. "Excerpt from Main Street." World War I and the Jazz Age, Primary Source Media, 1999. American Journey. Student Resources In Context, https://link-galegroup-com.content.elibrarymn.org/apps/doc/EJ2164000235/.... Accessed 12 July 2019.
- Sinclair Lewis. Britannica School. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2016. Web. 12 May. 2016.
Additional Resources for Research
- Discussion Guide, "Main Street by Sinclair Lewis." American Library Association Web. 12 May 2016.
- SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Main Street.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. n.d.. Web. 27 May 2016.
- "Main Street - Places Discussed" Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature Ed. R. Kent Rasmussen. eNotes.com, Inc. 2003 eNotes.com 14 Aug, 2017.
- Fisher, Joel. “Sinclair Lewis and the Diagnostic Novel: ‘Main Street’ and ‘Babbitt.’” Journal of American Studies, vol. 20, no. 3, 1986, pp. 421–433. JSTOR.